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Debate: Invasion of Iraq

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Were the US invasion of Iraq and those that voted for it justified? (at the time of the decision)

Background and context

Iraq invaded neighbouring Kuwait in 1990, provoking a US-led coalition to attack it in Operation Desert Storm, driving it out of Kuwait in a short campaign in 1991 (the Gulf War). Although some called for the allies to march into Iraq itself and overthrow the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the President and leader of the ruling Baath party, this was not done and Saddam has continued in power. Fearing that he possessed, or was developing, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, one of the United Nations’ peace conditions was that a Special Commission (UNSCOM) should investigate Iraqi weapons programmes and shut them down. Sanctions were put in place to ensure compliance. Although UNSCOM’s work was expecting to be relatively quick, it only finally withdrew from Iraq in 1998; Iraq had refused to cooperate further with its work but UNSCOM officials pointed to consistent Iraqi efforts to prevent it from finding out the truth about their weapons programmes. Sanctions have therefore remained in place (see the separate Debatabase topic on this) amid western suspicions that Saddam Hussein has continued secret programmes to develop “weapons of mass destruction”.Following the September 11th 2001 attacks on the United States, and the conclusion of the military campaign in Afghanistan, early in 2002 George W Bush singled out Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an “axis of evil”; rogue states intent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction, that the USA would confront. Since then the US administration has made no secret of its desire to get rid of Saddam Hussein, and that it is considering military strategies to do so, without specifying when and how this might take place.

For events after May 1, 2003, see Iraq War. The 2003 invasion of Iraq, (from March 20 to May 1, 2003) was led by the United States, backed by British forces and smaller contingents from Australia, Denmark, Poland and Spain. Four countries participated with troops during the initial invasion phase, which lasted from March 20 to May 1. These were the United States (248,000), United Kingdom (45,000), Australia (2,000), and Poland (194). 36 other countries were involved in its aftermath. The invasion marked the beginning of the current Iraq War. In preparation for the invasion, 100,000 US troops were assembled in Kuwait by February 18.[15] The United States supplied the vast majority of the invading forces, but also received support from Kurdish troops in Iraqi Kurdistan.

According to then-President of the United States George W. Bush and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of that time; Tony Blair, the reasons for the invasion were "to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people."[16] According to Blair, the trigger was Iraq's failure to take a "final opportunity" to disarm itself of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons that US and British officials called an immediate and intolerable threat to world peace.[17] Although some remnants of pre-1991 production were found after the end of the war, US government spokespeople confirmed that these were not the weapons for which the US went to war.[18][19] In 2005, the Central Intelligence Agency released a report saying that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq.[20]

In a January 2003 CBS poll 64% of US nationals had approved of military action against Iraq, however 63% wanted President Bush to find a diplomatic solution rather than going to war, and 62% believed the threat of terrorism would increase in the event of war.[21] The invasion of Iraq was strongly opposed by some traditional U.S. allies, including France, Germany, New Zealand, and Canada.[22][23][24] Their leaders argued that there was no evidence of WMD and that invading Iraq was not justified in the context of UNMOVIC's February 12, 2003 report. On February 15, 2003, a month before the invasion, there were many worldwide protests against the Iraq war, including a rally of three million people in Rome, which is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest ever anti-war rally.[25] According to the French academic Dominique Reynié, between January 3 and April 12, 2003, 36 million people across the globe took part in almost 3,000 protests against the Iraq war.[26]

The invasion was preceded by an air strike on the Iraqi Presidential Palace on 19 March 2003. The following day allied forces launched an incursion into southern Iraq from their massing point near the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border. While commandos launched an amphibious assault from the Persian Gulf to secure Basra and the surrounding oil fields, the main invasion army moved into southern Iraq securing the region and engaging in the Battle of Nasiriyah on 23 March. Massive air strikes across the country and against Iraqi command and control threw the defending army into chaos and prevented an effective resistance. On 26 March the 173rd Airborne Brigade was airdropped near the northern city of Kirkuk where they joined forces with Kurdish rebels and fought several actions against the Iraqi army to secure the northern part of the country. The main body of allied forces continued their drive into the heart of Iraq and encountered little resistance. Most of the Iraqi military was quickly defeated and Baghdad was occupied on 9 April. Other operations occurred against pockets of the Iraqi army including the capture and occupation of Kirkuk on April 10, and the attack and capture of Tikrit on 15 April. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the central leadership went into hiding as the allied forces completed the occupation of the country. On 1 May an end of major combat operations was declared, ending the invasion period and beginning the occupation period.

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Argument #1

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Yes

Saddam Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes were uncovered by UNSCOM in the 1990s, but not shut down for good. Since UNSCOM left in 1998, and as Iraq’s sanctions busting methods have becoming more sophisticated, these programmes have been developing rapidly, according to recent Iraqi defectors. As sanctions failed to force Iraq’s cooperation with a UN inspection regime, we have no alternative but to overthrow such a dangerous regime before it acquires such terrible weapons.

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No

There is no convincing evidence that Saddam Hussein is close to possessing any weapons of mass destruction. Recent defectors have been telling the USA what they know it wants to hear about the regime. Meanwhile US demands about inspection regimes effectively require Iraq to prove a negative; that it is not producing the weapons that UNSCOM failed to find in seven years of intrusive searching. Given that other states, including US allies such as India, Pakistan and Israel, have definitely acquired nuclear weapons in defiance of global treaties, the weapons argument appears to be nothing but an excuse to overthrow a regime America, and the Bush family in particular, hates. At the very least, the new, “smart sanction” regime should be given a chance to work in ensuring Iraqi compliance with UN demands.

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Argument #2

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Yes

As Saddam Hussein has engaged in wars of aggression against Iran and Kuwait, and used chemical weapons both against Iran and against the Kurdish minority within Iraq, we have good reason to believe he may be prepared to use any weapons of mass destruction available to him. He may not be deterred by the “mutually-assured destruction” doctrines of the cold war; as a brutal dictator he has shown no care for the Iraqi people and may be prepared to take them all with him if his own position is threatened.

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No

Iraq is not a serious threat; his military has never recovered from defeat in the Gulf War and is in no shape to fight wars of aggression. Kurds in Northern Iraq and Marsh Arabs in the south are protected by US policed no-fly zones, and neighbouring states are far more concerned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Evidence also exists that he can be deterred; he heeded Israel’s threat of “massive retaliation” in the Gulf War and did not use the chemical weapons he did possess. The greatest risk that he uses any weapons he might have is surely that he is provoked by a US attack aimed simply at removing him from power.

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Argument #3

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Yes

Iraq under Saddam is a sponsor of a number of international terrorist groups. Possible links to al-Qaeda may implicate it in the September 11th attacks on the USA; it was the only country not to condemn these attacks and one of its agents twice met Mohammed Atta, a leading hijacker. At the very least, the regime provides encouragement, funding and logistical support for groups who are intent upon killing civilians and overthrowing legitimate governments. Might it not also give these groups access to weapons of mass destruction?

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No

The evidence for any link to September 11th is very tenuous; the secular Baathist regime has little in common with the fundamentalist al-Qaeda. Many other countries are also listed by the US State Department as sponsors of terror, so why is Iraq being singled out as a target for invasion? Most of the groups Iraq is said to back are violently opposed to Israel, but many in the Middle East would not see these as terrorists, but rather freedom fighters against an occupying oppressor. In this context, ending any Iraqi support for terrorists would have little or no impact upon their operations.

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Argument #4

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Yes

Overthrowing the present Iraqi regime and removing Saddam Hussein would relieve the terrible suffering of the Iraqi people. The Baathist regime is a dictatorship which uses brutal methods to silence dissent and maintain its hold on power. UN sanctions excluded food and medicine, but Saddam has deliberately withheld these from his own people in order to score propaganda points. His attacks on the Kurds of northern Iraq, and the Marsh Arabs and Shia muslims of southern Iraq have amounted to genocide.

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No

There is no guarantee that any successor regime would be any better. Should an invasion provoke a military coup, as seems to be intended by the USA, then power would continue to be held by the same military and Baathist group who have served Saddam Hussein so brutally. The USA has been backing the Iraqi National Congress, but this loose collection of exile groups is united by nothing except dislike for the present regime. It includes figures with dubious democratic credentials, including ex-military leaders who are implicated in brutal acts of their own, and enjoys no legitimacy within Iraq. The very real prospect of a post-Saddam civil war would make the lives of ordinary Iraqis even worse.

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Argument #5

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Yes

The present Iraqi regime is a great threat to regional stability. In the past it has begun wars against two of its immediate neighbours (Iran and Kuwait), threatened a third (Saudi Arabia), launched unprovoked missiles against Israel, and called upon the people of the Arab World to rise up against their own governments. As a dictatorship, it may again seek to divert people’s attention away from their own sufferings by starting another war. Because of the strategic and economic importance of the Middle East, regional instability is a direct threat to global security. It is also clear that there will never be a lasting and workable peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians while Iraq remains such a threat. Fear of appearing weak to Iraq also blights reform efforts in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.

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No

The greatest threat to regional stability is the likelihood that Iraq might break up should the present regime be overthrown. This would draw in neighbouring states in support or opposition to particular factions (e.g. Iran in support of the Shiite, Turkey against the creation of an independent Kurdish state), or in an attempt to control Iraq’s oil wealth. Parallels to the war in the Congo are disturbing. Outrage on the “Arab street” against US imperialism might also seriously destabilise a number of fragile regimes in the Middle East, further destabilising the region and making compromise over Israel harder to achieve.

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Argument #6

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Yes

Overthrowing the Iraqi regime is entirely feasible and need not result in large numbers of casualties. Sanctions have prevented the military from rebuilding after the destruction that accompanied defeat in the Gulf War. Many senior army officers have defected, bringing valuable intelligence to western military planners. It is likely the regime, like the Taliban in Afghanistan, will prove to be very brittle once subject to a forceful attack, collapsing through lack of support in both the military and the population at large.

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No

Invading Iraq would be a risky military gamble. If the regime did not fall through a coup in the early days of the attack, then any invading force would have to be prepared to commit ground forces for a long campaign; as there are no domestic rebels to act as a proxy army (as was the case with the Northern Alliance in Iraq). Normal Iraqi soldiers may not be highly skilled or well equipped, but neither were the Vietcong; defence of your homeland from a foreign enemy is a powerful motivator. In addition, the elite Republic Guard, fiercely loyal to Saddam Hussein and 100 000 strong, would be a formidable opposition, especially in street-by-street fighting for control of the major towns and cities. Given Saddam’s use of civilians as a “human shield” in the past, casualties could be very high.

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Argument #7

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Yes

Overthrowing Saddam Hussein would be a valuable example to other potential rogue states, deterring future dictators from attempting to acquire weapons of mass destruction and acting as global terrorists. Failure to act decisively now will send a message that the international community is too weak and divided to take a stand against aggression, and will doom all present and future treaties designed to limit the reduce the threat of such terrible weapons for lack of any credible enforcement.

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No

Given that the US is positively friendly to some other states that have ignored international arms control treaties, the invasion of Iraq would not send a clear message. Instead it is likely to make the USA, and the west in general, even more hated and generate more terrorist outrages in the future. The greatest global danger is that the international coalition against terror, and the USA’s historic alliances with other western countries, will fall apart as a consequence of an invasion to which so many other states are openly opposed.

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